A comparative ethnobotany of Khevsureti, Samtskhe-Javakheti, Tusheti, Svaneti, and Racha-Lechkhumi, Republic of Georgia (Sakartvelo), Caucasus.
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BACKGROUND: The Republic of Georgia (Sakartvelo in Georgian language) is part of the Caucasus biodiversity hotspot, and human agricultural plant use dates bat at least 6000 years. However, little ethnobiological research has been published from the region since the 1940s. Given the lack of recent research in the region, the present study we report on plant uses in Skartvelo (Republic of Georgia), Caucasus. We hypothesized that, (1) given the long tradition of plant use, and the isolation under Soviet rule, plant use both based on homegardens and wild harvesting would be more pronounced in Georgia than in the wiser region, (2) the Soviet occupation would have had broad influence on plant use, and (3) there would still be incidence of knowledge loss despite wide plant use. METHODS: Fieldwork was conducted in Khevsureti, Samtskhe-Javakheti, Tusheti, Svaneti, and Racha in July-August 2013, July-August 2014, and September-October 2015. Interviews using semi-structured questionnaires were conducted with 170 participants (80 women and 90 men) after obtaining their oral prior informed consent. All interviews were carried out in the participants' homes and gardens by native speakers of Georgian and its local dialects (Svan, Tush, Khevsur, Psav), or, where participants spoke these as their native language, Armenian, Russian, or Greek. RESULTS: In the present study we encountered 480 plant species belonging to 249 genera of 95 families being used in the research region. The highest number of species and of unique species were reported from the remote Tusheti-Khevsureti region. Informant consensus and number of use reports were highest for each region in the food and medicinal use categories. Of the 480 plants being used in the research region 282 species were exclusively wild-harvested, 103 were grown in homegardens, and 84 were both grown in gardens and sourced in the wild. CONCLUSIONS: Plant species, and uses, found in our study, both for Georgia in general, as well as for its regions, showed clear relations to the wider Caucasus - Asia Minor - Balkans cultural complex. However, plant use in Georgia was much more diverse than reported in other studies from Eurasia.
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